Though he’s considered by many in the art world to be one of the most important abstract landscape artists of the 20th century, Richard Mayhew is more likely to describe his approach not in traditional art terms, but rather in terms more closely associated with jazz music. Frequently referring to himself as an improvisationalist, Mayhew, a one-time jazz singer himself, has been painting dream-like landscapes since his start amid the abstract expressionists of 1950s New York.

By the early 1960s, Mayhew had joined such artists as Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Charles Alston, and Alvin Hollingsworth to become a founding member of Spiral, an influential group of African American artists that sought to use the arts as a vehicle in the fight for civil rights and racial equality. And while continuing to garner critical praise, Mayhew taught in art programs around the country, including a 14-year professorship at Penn State University.

Interestingly for an artist so closely associated with landscapes, Mayhew is less concerned with issues of place than with the spontaneity of the mind, nature, and spirituality. A lone tree, an image rife with symbolic overtones, occupies many works. Its colors and abstractions rove from muted and hazy to brilliant and arresting and back again, sometimes in the space of a single piece.

Spark visits Mayhew at his home studio outside Santa Cruz, California, in 2009. During this time, his work is appearing concurrently at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and the de Saisset Museum of Santa Clara as part of a three-part retrospective tracing his career chronologically from the 1950s onward. His work is featured in the permanent collections of such museums as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum, among others.

Richard Mayhew 19 January,2016Spark

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Richard Mayhew

The Richard Mayhew segment was produced by Spark for This Week in Northern California.

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